How tablets, 3D printing and touchscreens are gearing up for business
11th Oct 2013 | 18:54
Which companies are riding Gartner's Hype Cycle this year?
Remember when using your smartphone at work posed a real risk of it being confiscated until the end of the day? Depending on who your employer is, that may still happen.
However, "bring your own device" (BYOD) - the phenomenon of staff using their own devices at work - means that many organizations are now looking to foster productivity and boost business results by supporting employee-owned smartphones, tablets and other devices.
"People are bringing in private devices to the workplace that are technologically more advanced and easier to use than they have at work," explains Gartner analyst Meike Escherich. "As such, what starts off in the consumer space nowadays ends up in the enterprise."
Each year analyst house Gartner identifies various consumer technologies with the potential to disrupt business over the next decade. It does this partly by studying data from its quarterly shipment forecasts.
Once collected, the results are made into the company's Hype Cycle for Consumer Devices, a document aimed at helping organizations time investments for when products go "mainstream."
How does it define mainstream? "When around 40% of the possible market has adopted it," explains Escherich. "The possible market is something you could argue about forever, but that's the way we distinguish it. We track how many companies product certain devices, and we know what's going on in R&D departments to a degree."
This year, Gartner has plucked out tablets, multi-touchscreen displays and 3D printing to lead the pack for technologies with the potential to breakthrough into the enterprise.
Technology #1 - Tablets
In the consumer space, the tablet explosion kicked off when Apple's iPad landed back in 2010. According to Gartner, such devices are poised to have a transformational effect on business within the next two years.
A survey by the analyst house conducted earlier this year found that 60% of consumers in Western Europe and the US use their tablet at least once a day for business activity.
"There's no question that tablets are going to work their way into the enterprise on all levels," says Escherich. "People are using them for anything from accessing email and company data or writing reports, whether that's using the tablet in the office or accessing company data at home over its network."
But what will be the most popular platform? Apple recently flexed its enterprise muscles with iOS 7, which introduced a multitude of new features to help mobile device management (MDM) providers offer better solutions.
However, Escherich says that Android tablets stand a real chance of catching up for two reasons. First, she says that the introduction of lower-priced models will boost popularity among consumers.
Then there is the increasing number of MDM solutions appearing on the Android platform, she adds, including "very interesting virtualization and hypervisor-based software solutions."
Despite Windows 8 tablets making headway by introducing numerous form factors, such as hybrid 2-in-1 "convertible," devices toting Microsoft's tile-based OS are struggling to enter the enterprise, according to Escherich.
"I think we'll see a slow but continual update during 2014 when we're got the next technology CPU wave coming in with Bay Trail and Haswell, which are going to allow immediate on and greater graphic capabilities," she says.
Despite this, Escherich believes tablets toting Microsoft's platform will remain behind for the next "two or three years" in the consumer space, even if they are the preferred option for IT departments. "They favor them because they can run legacy applications and cope better with security issues."
Whereas other platforms are geared for general purpose use within business, Windows 8 tablets are more suited to individual use cases, explains Escherich.
"You'll find companies purchasing them for quite specific tasks, for example engineers in the field, or medical staff walking the wards," she says. "They're targeted quite specifically at verticals in that sense."
Technology #2 - Multi-touch screens
It's safe to say that Windows 8 has yet to set the business world alight, and part of that is down to uncertainty around the benefits of using touchscreens - whether that's on a desk monitor or a tablet device.
However, Gartner has counted multi-touch screens (screens with anything from two-point to 10-point touch functionality) as one of the three big consumer technologies to capture the attention of business users in the near future.
And how long will this take? "Less than two years," says Escherich. "It's creeping up on us and will be standard before you know it. It's come in via the smart phone and then moved onto the tablet and is now going onto laptops and desktops."
Escherich says that all-in-one (AIO) PCs with multitouch monitors are a "particularly interesting segment" that's picked up traction over the last few years.
"They're flying off the shelves at the moment as they have touch capability," she says. "People like them for photo editing, changing screens and its intuitive nature."
The problem AIOs pose to both consumers and businesses is that of price, according to Escherich, who says that touch-enabled devices tend to retail with a premium price tag of "around $100."
"That will only come down as the volumes increase, so it's a bit of a catch-22 situation," she says. "It's not going to happen with a big bang but you'll see quite clearly in 2014 that touch will begin to become standard in the consumer space."
Escherich says that the Internet of Things, a concept based connecting everyday devices to the internet to control them and find new ways of taking advantage of data, is another driver behind multi-touch monitors both for consumers and enterprises.
Escherich points to multi-touch customer interaction terminals in airports and train stations. Tesco went one step further last year by putting up a huge virtual shop that allowed customers to buy products by touching items on the screen and scanning barcodes with their mobile device.
"We are already see touch screens everywhere. Go into an airport or big retail stall and you'll see big customer interaction terminals that have multi-touch," says Escherich. "You can use them to get your shopping delivered, book yourself into a hotel in the lobby and on aeroplanes."
Technology # - 3D printing
The promise of making anything from parts to complete products in your slippers and dressing gown is a tantalising prospect (for consumers, that is, unless your business has an unconventional uniform policy).
According to Gartner, it's poised to have a transformational business impact within five to 10 years. 3D printing technology itself isn't new, but the company reckons it's has advanced to the point where one-off and customised pieces can be created on devices costing under $1,000 (around £627, or AU$1,056).
"3D printing isn't really there yet," says Escherich. "It's still primarily a business machine, and there's a lot of consolidation of technology providers going on."
One of the benefits of 3D printing is the ability to produce prototypes, Escherich explains, adding that it could also allow smaller businesses to produce smaller parts for larger devices in-store while customers wait or return after a few hours.
"The problem holding 3D printing back is still price," she says. "There will be a difference between the ones that consumers pick up at Staples and the ones manufacturers will buy, but it will definitely change the way we manufacture things."
- Interested in what 2012's top business trends were? Check them out here.